Wisconsin businesses highlight access to Internet, difficult labor market during latest COVID-19 impact survey


(WFRV) – The latest UW Oshkosh COVID-19 impact survey shows access to broadband Internet is impacting work-from-home options for Wisconsin businesses.

More than half of the Wisconsin businesses that responded to UWO’s sixth monthly survey shows access to broadband Internet is limiting employees’ ability to work from home. Of those responding, 15% indicated a lack of access limits their ability to offer online services.

Only a quarter of respondents have added new online services since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to UW Oshkosh’s survey.

Jeff Sachse, interim director of UWO’s Center for Customized Research and Services, suggested the broadband findings are especially interesting when considered with findings from last month’s survey.

“Given that a large majority of businesses have continuously expressed some level of concern regarding adopting work-from-home policies, we now know that a lack of high-speed broadband is one of the barriers that likely feeds this concern,” he says. “This factor also has impacted businesses’ ability to pivot into new markets and services as it is likely that business owners are not confident they can manage these services remotely.”

“New North is developing strategies to better understand the needs of delivering distance learning to students and other residents’ broadband access requirements to be connected to healthcare services and work opportunities,” says Barb LaMue, president and CEO of New North, Inc. “As such information becomes aggregated, it will be critical in formulating short- and long-term solutions for residents within our 18-county region.”

Of the 453 Wisconsin companies representing over 20,000 employes that responded to the survey, 92% completed the past six surveys.

Respondents reported renewed losses in August, according to UWO. Those include:

  • $1.4 million in inventory losses 
  • $4.2 million in lost income 
  • $804,000 in lost wages and productivity 
  • $23.9 million in other financial losses 

According to a Tuesday release, responding businesses continue to face a difficult labor market, adding only 70 total employees over the month.

“The renewed downturn in August is connected both to the end of the summer tourism season and the continued increase in COVID-19 cases. This is reflected both in the losses identified and the priority that businesses continue to express for increased customer contact,” Sachse says.

Less than 30% of businesses applied for financial assistance. This is the lowest level observed over the six months the survey has been conducted.

“This is likely due to an ongoing lack of resources as Congress continues to consider new stimulus measures,” Sasche explains.

The latest survey also focused on supply chain issues. One-third of responding businesses have been forced to find alternate suppliers this year with 62% of those businesses indicating they found a Wisconsin-based supplier to meet their needs.

Just under 40% of the businesses reported exploring or expressing interest in reshoring, or moving manufacturing back from other countries to the U.S., at least a portion of production.

The survey is a partnership of UWO, the state’s nine Regional Development Organizations, including New North, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Additional results can be found online.

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